By MARINA WATERS
When Rich and Marilyn Lapsley of West Palm Beach, Florida and Carl and Angela Letterie of Venice, Florida saw that Hurricane Irma was headed for the Sunshine State, there was no question as to whether or not they would be staying put.
That’s when the four of them got in touch with their old friend and Jonesborough resident Marcy Hawley who just happened to have space to spare in her historic home nestled near downtown.
“The reason we came is because we lived through a category three and it stayed over Palm Beach County for over 12 hours,” Marilyn Lapsley said. “Let me tell you, our house shook. The pressure was unbelievable. You could just feel this pressure and the noise. So I said to Rich, ‘Anything over a two, we’re leaving. I don’t care.’”
The Lapsleys have lived in Florida for nearly 30 years. In that time, they’ve lived through the wrath of Hurricanes Francis, Charlie, Jean and Wilma. Not ready to make Irma their fifth, they left their Florida home last Wednesday to head towards Tennessee — and away from the preparation chaos that was already taking place.
“We gassed up way ahead of time last Monday,” Marilyn Lapsley said. “Then as the hurricane story started coming out that it was going to be a big son of a gun, then people started to run for the gas stations — they found empty tanks.”
As for the Letteries, who have lived in Florida for two and a half years, they might not have experienced numerous hurricanes, but after living through Kansas and Missouri tornadoes, Hurricane Eva in Hawaii and a country-wide lockdown in Korea when the president was assassinated in the early ‘90s, they’re familiar with evacuation plans and riding out a storm.
“If you watch TV over the years, you see these humongous lines of cars trying to get out at the last minute, but I’m thinking, ‘I’m not doing that,’ Carl Letterie said. “We would have left earlier if I could have gotten someone to put the shutters on the windows earlier. I didn’t want to get stuck. As it turned out, we got stuck out anyway. But compared to a lot of people, it was nothing.”
The Floridians said that because of these hurricanes, their towns have built homes with roofs tied into the walls for better security and steel streetlights that lower into the ground in preparation for bad weather. Even with constructional preparedness, the Lapsleys and Letteries explained that the rush for resources will likely continue after the storm passes.
“The next thing that will happen, based on our experience, is after the storm, there’ll be plenty of gas, but there’s no electricity to pump the gas out of the ground,” Rich Lapsley said. “They tried to make it mandatory that every gas station have an auxiliary generator. So some do and some don’t. All the gas stations on the turnpike have auxiliary generators. The mom and pops probably don’t because of the expense.”
When it comes to who stays and who decides to evacuates, the group said they felt that it was just a matter of choices. And unless under a mandatory evacuations as many Floridians were, the choice comes down to your way of thinking, according to the Lapsleys and Letteries.
“I guess you have optimists and pessimists,” Angela Letterie said. “We’re kinda like on the pessimist end I guess. We were out of there just in case. The other ones thought they’d give it a shot.”
“If we pack up and leave and it doesn’t happen, then we just get a vacation,” Carl Letterie added. “But fortunately, we had the resources to be able to do that.”
Marilyn Lapsley explained that their daughter and her children would be staying in their Florida home though the storm and that they prepared the house with shutters and large amounts of water and ice. Meanwhile, the Letteries explained that they cleared their deck and cut large holes in their pool cage in order for the monstrous winds to pass through without taking yet another of their pool cages flying in a Florida storm.
But in all of their experience living through the howling winds, power outages and what Marilyn Lapsley described as “unbelievable atmospheric pressure” associated with hurricanes, and now, evacuating from a tropical storm, the group of friends agreed that it’s important to take your most important documents along with you. But they also said that in the grand scheme, all those “things” didn’t matter so much.
“It’s only stuff. Your house is only stuff. It’s a lot of stuff,” Angela Letterie said, “but your life is more important.